This is a story about a magnificent catch and a fisherman with a famous name forever linked to fishing and storytelling.
It's about a joyous moment that turned sad in a flash, a fisherman's struggle with guilt, and honoring life's passage through art and community.
John Maclean caught a 9-pound, 29-inch Cutthroat Trout in Seeley Lake.
The catch was a stone's throw from the cabin where Norman Maclean wrote the book, "A River Runs Through It."
Like his father, John Maclean is an esteemed writer and fly fisherman. Maclean recalls a fall day 5 years ago when he saw trout rise forms on the lake.
That was unusual, he said, the way the lake often used to look when Maclean was a boy. But that was before the infestation of Northern Pike. "They've nearly destroyed the Clearwater as a trout fishery," said Maclean.
Maclean remembers taking his rod and jumping into his canoe.
"And the bottom of the lake took the fly," said Maclean. "I didn't see him for a half hour. It was an epic battle."
Until, flopping on the bottom of the canoe, he marveled at the Cutthroat.
He didn't want to eat him. He took his picture.
"And went to release him," said the fisherman, "and he went down like a stone. He had a heart attack."
Maclean felt terrible. It was such an amazing fish, and such a waste.
"When the fish dies without meriting death," said Maclean, "it ruined it for me."
He's agonized over that special, rare fish ever since.
But he showed artist Jeff Wisehart the trout's pictures. The artist recreated the fish's image in wood.
"The head and body out of Western Cedar," said Wisehart, " the tail out of Redwood and the fins out of Quaking Aspen."
That fish, which in a span of just a few moments, gave both joy and sadness to a fisherman has become a community touch stone, a gift.
John Maclean writes books about fires and firefighters. The fish is mounted on wood that Jeff's son-in-law retrieved from a forest fire. "
In the same time span the fish died of a heart attack, the artist survived a heart attack. People have a connection with the fish and its unusual story.
"This is heartfelt," said Maclean's friend Addrien Marx. The mount hangs at Marx's store and service station in Seeley Lake.
This busy, not so tranquil spot, brings customers in who want to know more about the fish. Anybody who knows the story likes to pass it on.
John Maclean's lost fish has become everybody's fish.